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Our First ACC Preview - N.C. State

So far, Mark Gottfried has shown a real knack for building in less than ideal circumstances.

Big fat Beejay has been replaced by a much slimmer - and likely more effective - player.
Big fat Beejay has been replaced by a much slimmer - and likely more effective - player.
Joe Robbins

Let's dispense with the obvious: no, Mark Gottfried has not returned State to an elite level in college basketball. Yes, he's still a vast improvement over the last three coaches State suffered through: Les Robinson, Herb Sendek and Sidney Lowe.

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Robinson was hired to clean up the program after Jim Valvano was forced out and whatever talents he had were stymied by State's new insistence on academic integrity.

Herb Sendek coached and scheduled with the soul of an accountant and had none of the spark that Everett Case, Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano brought to the program.

And Sidney Lowe, beloved though he was, never got State turned around.

Gottfried has.

And even more impressively, look how he's done it: in his first year, he took Lowe's roster and won 24 games, losing by just three in the NCAA Tournament to Kansas.

He won 24 games his first two years and 22 last year despite having to rebuild around  T.J. Warren and just two other returning players - Jordan Vandenberg and Tyler Lewis.

In each season at State to date, Gottfried has been dealt a less-than-perfect hand and played it very, very well.

True to form, this year he'll lose all the guys who returned last year: Vandenberg, who became a competent center in his final year, Lewis, who showed real flashes as a point guard and then transferred to Butler, and Warren, who was picked by the Suns in the first round of the NBA draft.

The returning talent is improved though, and State has the potential, again, to win 22-24 games and be in the tourney.

And this is worth noting: under Gottfried, State has been just short each year, getting knocked out by three, four and three points, and last year in overtime to St. Louis (State would probably have won had the travel schedule not been astoundingly brutal. The NCAA shouldn't invite teams if the travel can't at least be sane).

This year, Gottfried, who runs the UCLA offense he learned from Jim Harrick (and runs it superbly, we might add) has some interesting pieces to work with.

His returnees are a little deeper than last year: Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee, who both transferred in, return, as does Lennard Freeman (6-8) and Kyle Washington (6-9).

The most intriguing returnees though are Anthony "Cat" Barber and Beejay Anya.

Barber was erratic as a freshman but good enough to convince Lewis to transfer. He's called Cat for a reason - the guy is very, very quick. Last year he was also prone to do foolish things like charge into the lane with no plan. He also didn't shoot well from three point range, which meant no one worried too much about guarding his outside shot.

He also had a marked preference for going to his left.

His talent, unrefined though it was, was undeniable. And either the reports about him in high school were exaggerated or he has matured nicely.

As for Anya, he came to State as a fat, gooey freshman who simply could not maintain the pace of ACC basketball. He showed up weighing nearly 340, got down to close to 300 during the season and should be down further for the season.

He's not in perfect shape here, but he's definitely heading in the right direction. Last season he maxed out at 10 minute stretches. This season he should be able to run a lot more.

Last year, he had 46 blocks and 68 rebounds in 388 minutes total. That works out to one block every 8.4 minutes and a rebound every 5.7 minutes.

Scoring wasn't his strong point but that should improve as well.

No one is expecting him to improve as much as Warren did last year, but if he's a reliable presence inside and can play for 25-30 minutes a night, he'll be a real key for State.

We were also impressed by Washington. He played like a freshman fairly often, but at times he could be sensational.

Washington averaged 4.8 ppg and 3.9 rpg. We would expect Washington and Anya to start up front and to be backed up by Lennard Freeman. Freeman is the best returning rebounder at 5.7 per game.

It's a young core but potentially a good one. Where State gets interesting is in the new kids.

Start with Trevor Lacey, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Alabama.

Lacey was a Top 30 recruit coming out of high school and started 52 games for the Tide. He averaged 9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 2.5 assists.

He and the other transfers, Turner and Lee, give State solid athleticism at the wing.

Gottfried has a similar trio to work with at small forward, all freshmen.

Abdul-Malik Abu, who is 6-8 and 235, enters college with a reputation as a smart and athletic player. He also has a 7-1 wingspan.

He's also said to be a good rebounder.

The Martin twins are also intriguing. Both are also athletic and can play forward or guard, which helps State's depth immensely.

Remember Mike Dunvleavy in his freshman year? Duke had a very thin roster but Dunleavy's versatility allowed Duke to rotate and keep everyone fresh.

We're not comparing these guys to Mike Dunleavy, certainly not yet, but stop and take a look at where State is now.

Functional big man? Check. Lightning quick point guard? Check. Multiple athletes on the wing? Check. Power inside? Check. Three point shooting?

We'll check back.

All things considered though, Gottfried has to be smiling.

There's no C.J. Leslie to drift in and out of games. T.J. Warren is gone, but he was never going to stay long.

If Anya is fit and ready to roll, then State has multiple players at every position except center. They're all quick and talented and there's some muscle.

The biggest concern for State is simply maturity. Lee and Turner are seniors but no one has mistaken them for All-Americans or anything. Lacey is a junior. Otherwise, State will feature seven underclassmen.

In essence, although Gottfried is starting his fourth season, he's rebuilt in all but his second season.

The good news for State is that he's won every year in spite of the rebuilding.

He definitely has enough talent and last year he brought a young and lightly regarded team along brilliantly. We've seen enough to say this: Mark Gottfried may not have State at an elite level yet, but the man clearly knows what he is doing. Bet against him at your own peril.